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No. 7 Tennessee set for completely different kind of test vs. Alabama

NCAA Basketball: Western Kentucky at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

You couldn’t ask for a better start to SEC play for the Tennessee Volunteers. The Vols, ranked No. 7 nationally in the AP Poll, took it to Missouri on the road and came away with an impressive 20 point win. The victory came against the only other ranked team in the league, further establishing Tennessee’s stranglehold as the favorite to win the SEC.

It was Tennessee’s seventh win of the young season — one that was delayed due to a COVID shutdown to begin the year. That eliminated several big tests for the Vols, who are continuing to find themselves as the season rolls on.

Coming off of that win against Missouri, Tennessee will face a completely different style of team on Saturday night in Knoxville. Nate Oats and the Alabama Crimson Tide play fast and free, shooting 31 three-point attempts per contest.

“We have a good opponent tomorrow in Alabama, coached by Nate Oats,” Tennessee assistant head coach Kim English said on Friday. “They’re a really good team with some good wins this season. Obviously, Ole Miss a few days ago. They beat a really good Furman team, Providence, had a hard-fought battle against Western Kentucky. They are a completely different opponent than what we just faced in Missouri.”

Under Cuonzo Martin, Missouri plays at a slower pace, executing his tough, defensive style of basketball. The Tigers hit just 3-16 attempts from three, as the offense sputtered from the opening tip. Alabama will bring a much different approach to the table, one that we’re familiar with — one that has given this program issues in the past.

“They play the fourth-fastest pace in the country,” English said of Alabama. “They shoot about 37 threes a game. They stretch the floor, five out. It is the college version of what the Houston Rockets are. It’s going to be a great challenge for our guys. Seeing how they respond from executing a game plan at Missouri, to a completely different attack against Alabama tomorrow at 6:00 p.m.”

Tennessee beat Alabama last season on the road, 69-68. The Tide gave the then No. 1 Vols a scare during the 2018-19 season, coming up just short of the upset after John Petty poured in 30 points.

Petty returns to this team, along with Herbert Jones. Guards Jaden Shackelford and Jahvon Quinerly are both averaging north of 13 points on the year, while Petty and Jones are both at 12. Alabama is shooting 30 percent from long range on the year (253rd in the nation), but as we’ve seen, a hot shooting day can cure anything.

Tennessee hasn’t faced a team that plays this way, but Alabama also hasn’t seen anything quite like this elite defensive unit of the Volunteers.

The Volunteers and Crimson Tide will tip-off at Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN2.